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Principle 4: Knowledge Base – Lifelong Culinary Learning

When speaking about developing positive food experiences, knowledge base refers to developing our culinary skills.

As we grow and develop our knowledge base, we learn the importance of nourishment. We explore the world around us. As we interact with people and objects, we process information about everything from rocks to rocket science. Learning becomes a normal, natural, and an exciting endeavor.

We may start out with making simple foods such as scrambled eggs or toast. Then we work our way up to cooking roasts and grilling meats. Perhaps we declare many new techniques we learned from a recent cooking class on how to make sushi. We may learn how to adjust quantities in order to serve any size group from 1 to 101. Our interest in and quest for knowledge is nourished and enhanced as we learn. There is a whole world of resources around us to help develop our skills.

The importance of developing a well-rounded education in culinary skills cannot be overstated.

How Studies Build our Knowledge Base

According to the 2016 Food and Health Survey, for example, nearly half of all Americans have read a book or article, or have watched a movie or documentary, about the food system. Of that group, half of them changed their food purchases as a result. Additionally, the survey stated that half of all Americans read food labels prior to making food purchases. This clearly indicates an interest by many people in their own nutritional health and that of their families.

In another example, a recent study of adolescent food literacy showed that adolescents are excited to learn new food skills such as cooking and menu planning, but do not have access to those educational resources at home or at school. While instruction programs and other curriculum differ greatly among schools, there is ample instruction and resources available from the home.

Some families have a rich heritage of cooking, with recipes being handed down from generation to generation. Other families may not have a tradition of cooking, but can actively learn through online resources and local cooking classes.

A snippet from one of mom's recipes refers to resources used to build your knowledge base

Resources provide everyone an opportunity to learn vital cooking skills together.

Resources such as these provide everyone an opportunity to learn vital cooking skills together. These opportunities provide greater awareness about cooking and food. They also provide greater self-sufficiency and opportunities to build individual positive food experiences and share them with others.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is a study on Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices of Independent Living Continuing Care Retirement Community Residents on Food Labeling and Knowledge of Diet-Disease Relationships. The study showed that although participants were aware of and understood information about food labels, they did not see a correlation between that food labeling and disease. Participants thought that perhaps their health situation was more genetically predisposed rather than dependent on diet and nutrition.

Learning for Ourselves

No matter what our age, location, or life situation, we can all take a proactive role in building our culinary skills.

In preparation for the annual Food & Words Festival in Sydney, Australia, festival founder Barbara Sweeney emphasized the need to reclaim the food experience by developing cooking skills and seeking out new approaches to food and health. Sweeney stated,

“We have to know how to cook. The more we hand over our power around food and cooking to multinationals making choices based on profit, the more alienated we are from our own health, wellbeing and happiness.”

Learning for yourself empowers you to make good food choices. It places you in a better position to have positive food experiences.

Where can we learn about food choices, cooking skills, eating habits, and similar topics? Let’s discuss some avenues to learning and honing our culinary skills.

Family

From our earliest days, we often learn cooking skills from our family members. I, for one, was constantly in the kitchen with my mother. To watch my mom, I would stand on a chair by the kitchen counter as she prepared various dishes. I squealed with delight every time I helped mom stir something or hand her ingredients. As I got older, mom put me in charge of making whole dishes such as baked yams at Thanksgiving and spaghetti dinners during a typical week. My mother’s instruction over the years was not fancy and was often not written. This hands-on training gave me a basic culinary foundation to explore the culinary world at a deeper level.

Family memories in the kitchen provide a baseline for our own survival when we leave the nest. Those memories can inspire us to want to replicate and expand upon that early learning.

A bowl of cereal and a banana to represent developing your knowledge base in the family

Family memories in the kitchen provide a baseline for our own survival when we leave the nest.

We may not have extensive instructional time in the kitchen from a parent or other family member. However, the time that we did spend in the kitchen often motivates us to set our own culinary goals and habits.

Friends

My earliest “cooking” memories with my friends are from many slumber parties for birthdays or just weekend retreats. We baked yummy sweets with an Easy-Bake oven. We made unusual and unique beverages that included ice cream, Sprite, and pickle juice (Eeeeeeewwwwwww!). Thankfully, my culinary habits became more sophisticated as I got older. Friends still motivate me to learn new techniques and to try new food combinations.

Friends draw from their individual cooking memories and experiences to create new, collective experiences.

Depending on age and maturity level, some may not be able to fully understand or communicate those experiences. However, they can share what they have learned. They can inspire good food choices and new techniques, and further their culinary education.

Work Colleagues

Our colleagues often have a lot to share in the culinary world. Like our cherished friends, colleagues bring many food experiences to the table – both positive and negative. Some colleagues are strictly consumers and want little or nothing to do with cooking. Others actively cook at home for their own family members. They may cook recipes that have been in the family for generations. Perhaps they blaze their own trail and form new culinary traditions. Or they may do a combination of both.

Colleagues may be considered a more diverse database of culinary knowledge and experiences. Potluck lunches at the office are frequently the environment for recipe sharing. There we may have detailed discussions about cooking techniques, or the tweaks we often do to make recipes “just right”. Colleagues have a lot to offer from a culinary perspective. They offer a level of information exchange that you may not find elsewhere.

Formal Classes

Formal cooking schools around the world help those who seek careers as a chef or restaurant manager, or those who simply want to enhance their food knowledge and experience levels. The top 20 cooking schools in the United States offer a mixture of hands-on, book study, and the development of innovation and creativity.

The Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, for example, considered by many to be the number one cooking school both in the United States and in the world, has a curriculum that is dynamic, creative, and global. While most cooking schools focus on in-person training, some cooking schools also offer some online classes depending on the area of focus and progression in the program.

Online Training

Many people cannot afford the expenses to attend a reputable culinary school. Depending on their education goals, it also may not make economic sense to attend in-person classes. The rise in online training offers several options to whet your appetite for culinary education.

The New England Culinary Institute (NECI), for example, offers bachelor’s degrees in Culinary Arts, Baking and Pastry Arts, and Food and Beverage Business Management. NECI’s 12-course program is flexible enough to complete wherever you happen to be in the world. The program helps you develop a firm culinary foundation no matter what your career pursuits happen to be.

In addition to formal university education, there are many informal online courses for those whose schedule is not conducive to many online programs. America’s Test Kitchen, for example, has over 230 online courses for all skill levels. The recipes range from soups and side dishes to making dainty chocolate truffles. With illustrations, video clips, and instructional guides, you can learn to make even the most complicated recipes quickly and easily.

These and other online courses help to bring the culinary education to you – wherever and whenever you like. The instruction helps to build not only your skills, but your culinary confidence in cooking even the most basic foods. As your skill set and confidence grows, your ability to create positive food experiences increases exponentially.

Food Establishments

Grocery stores, cooking supply stores, some restaurants, etc. offer several opportunities to hone your culinary skills. Aprons Cooking Schools, for instance, offer patrons an opportunity to build their food confidence regardless of what type of food they are cooking up. The entertaining and inspirational atmosphere of their classes breaks down the barriers of fear or uncertainty in the kitchen. Specialty cookware store Williams Sonoma offers an array of classes on cooking techniques, the use of various kitchen tools and gadgets, and food demonstrations to tantalize the pallet and build your familiarity with common kitchen tools.

Libraries

Libraries have a seemingly endless supply of culinary literature. Food novels whet our appetites for food creation, presentation, and consumption. Cookbooks allow us to create our own hands-on food experience in the comfort of our own home. Food programs at libraries extend our knowledge with various hands-on activities for people of all ages.

The Free Library of Philadelphia, for example, seeks to revolutionize the union between food and literacy with its Culinary Literacy Center programs. The programs range from cooking classes to reading groups to food demonstrations. These types of resources and more are available at your local library or their affiliates.

Proactive Learning

The choice to develop your culinary knowledge is yours.

Consider your prior experiences with food, from the earliest days of your childhood down to the present time. Take stock in yourself and your capabilities. Set goals for yourself for your learning and development. Decide to take hands-on, in person cooking classes to learn from the ground up. You may only desire supplemental learning to develop more advanced cooking techniques. Perhaps you decide to stake new ground with creating your own recipes for you and your family.

We invite you to do whatever it takes to build your culinary knowledge.

Regardless of your past experiences, you can build positive food experiences. You can create your own memories and traditions. The journey in and of itself is part of that experience. Building your culinary knowledge base increases your proficiency in cuisines, techniques, and overall food selections. It also helps you to become a better teacher to family members, friends, colleagues, and other associates. You can help others build their own positive food experiences. In doing so, you can create great memories, and set realistic and fun goals for the future. The process starts with you. The process can start today.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What is your culinary background? What do you want to learn in the next month? Year? What are some resources that have been useful to you to build your culinary knowledge?

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